BT Solar part of green rehabilitation of Cleveland’s Forest City Apartments

BT Solar Cleveland

The Forest City Apartments building, located on the corner of West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue in Cleveland’s thriving Ohio City neighborhood, has been hailed as Cleveland’s greenest building. Better Together Solar (BT Solar), Northeast Ohio’s largest solar installer, worked closely with Snavely Group and Dimit Architects to follow Enterprise Green Communities +20 design criteria to integrate green practices into affordable housing. The result sets the standard for sustainable and green rehabilitation in the City of Cleveland.

Two structures make up the Forest City Apartments building, the Forest City Savings & Trust Building built in 1904 and the Seymour block built in 1878, both of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings were connected on the upper levels in the 1940s and have undergone substantial renovations to support mixed use. Forest City Apartments contain 38 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors. The ground floor of the project is anchored by two commercial tenants that are connected internally, including a restaurant incubator featuring four unique food concepts in one space with a large common bar and outdoor patio, and a 9,000 square foot co-working and event space featuring a small bar, work lounge, private conference rooms and dozens of offices and desks.

BT Solar Cleveland

The project was awarded nine percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency along with state and federal historic tax credits as administered by the National Parks Service. In securing the bid for the recent renovation, Snavely Group, a full-service construction company located in Northeast Ohio, promised 75 percent total energy offset with renewable energy.

“The project was special,” said Myles Murray, Director of Communications for BT Solar, “in that our solar panel design required offsetting 75 percent of the energy consumption on site with clean energy.” This meant BT Solar needed to make use of all the available rooftop space, including a carport canopy. To hit their target production, additional space to mount panels was found by using steel frames that formerly held a billboard sign. A flush mounting system was used to maximize the density of the modules. The flush mounted panels also help the system blend seamlessly in the roof and support the historic integrity of the building. “The rooftop system is basically invisible from the street despite taking over 80% of the space on the roof,” said Murray.

According to Murray, a combination of 365W LG modules and 325W Hanwha Q- cells panels were used for a total of 680 modules. Energy generation is estimated at over 225MWh per year for a savings of around $35,000 per year on the Cleveland Public Power network. Energy generated and energy consumed can be monitored in real time to view energy purchases and savings for the building. Other green features incorporated into the building include high performance insulation and a high efficiency HVAC system.

Pete Snavely, Jr., Vice President of Development for Snavely Group, considers the Forest City Apartments building as the future of building for responsible living and credits its success to the cooperation between all parties.

Buildings account for about 40 percent of all U.S. energy consumption, and most of these structures will be in use for decades. Reducing their energy use will not only ensure long-term cost savings for homeowners and businesses, but also must be a central component of any meaningful climate strategy. “The Forest City Apartments building is a great example of how you can make solar work in Cleveland,” said Snavely. Myles Murray agrees. “This project proves that you can install solar panels while not compromising architectural details,” he said.

The Forest City Savings & Trust and Seymour Block project was honored with a Preservation Achievement Award at the 2020 Celebration of Preservation. A Celebration of Preservation is held each year to “recognize exemplary historic preservation projects across Northeast Ohio.” It was also recognized as Best Multi-Use Rehabilitation in 2020 by Heritage Ohio.

“The broader story here is that there is a quiet revolution going on regarding solar panels,” said Murray. Going solar creates jobs and puts energy production and its benefits back in the hands of the people and contributes to cleaner air and water for everyone. The City of Cleveland encourages the installation of solar energy systems, and Cleveland’s solar market is on the rise. In a recent study, Cleveland, which averages 4.2 hours of full sunshine per day, has shown to have more solar installs per capita than the sunny metro areas of Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte.

According to Murray, solar panel technology changes on an annual basis. Module efficiency has increased from about 13 percent to over 20 percent in the last 20 years. Solar panels require little maintenance and are built to last for about 30 years. BT Solar designs and installs solar energy solutions for commercial, residential and nonprofit customers. In addition to technology and installation, BT Solar works with clients to create custom financial solutions as well as prepare and submit all permits and applications. Their local expertise ensures they can monitor the unique details of each installation site.

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